Women for Women International

Women for Women International provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies.
Feb 12, 2009

Women for Women International's CIFI Project recognized in The Wall Street Journal

By Cindy McCain July 28. 2008

I have recently returned from Rwanda. I was last there in 1994, at the height of the genocide that claimed the lives of more than 800,000 Rwandans. The memories of what I saw haunt me still.

I wasn't sure what to expect all these years later, but I found a country that has found in its deep scars the will to move on and rebuild a civil society. And the renaissance is being led by women.

Women are at the forefront of the physical, emotional and spiritual healing that is moving Rwandan society forward. One of them, from eastern Rwanda, told me her story -- a violent, tragic and heartbreaking testimony of courage. She spoke of surviving multiple gang rapes, running at night in fear of losing her life, going days without food or water and witnessing the death of her entire family -- one person at a time, before her eyes.

The injuries she sustained left her unable to bear children. Illness, isolation and an utter lack of hope left her in abject despair.

And yet the day I met her, she wasn't consumed by hatred or resentment. She sat, talking with me and a few others, beside a man who had killed people guilty of nothing more than seeking shelter in a church. She forgave him. She forgave the perpetrators of her tragedy, and she explained her story with hope that such cruelty would never be repeated.

It is a humbling experience to be in the presence of those who have such a capacity for forgiveness and care. It is also instructive. If wealthy nations want their assistance programs to be effective, they should look to the women who form the backbone of every society. With some education, training, basic rights and empowerment, women will transform a society -- and the world.

Women today make up a disproportionate percentage of the Rwandan population. In the aftermath of the genocide, they had to head households bereft of fathers. They had to take over farms, and take jobs previously done by men. But there were opportunities, too: Today, 41% of Rwandan businesses are owned by women.

I saw their impact first hand at a coffee project in the city of Nyandungu. All the washing and coffee-bean selection is done by hand, by women there. Women for Women International, a remarkably active and innovative nongovernmental organization, has already helped over 15,000 Rwandan women through a year-long program of direct aid, job-skills training and education.

The organization is launching a project to train 3,000 women in organic agriculture, and is reaching out to females across the country. The women who instruct their fellow war survivors in economic development are an inspiration to those who cherish the essential benevolence of humanity.

But that is just the beginning. A new constitution ratified in 2003 required that women occupy at least 30% of the seats in parliament. (In our House and Senate only about 17% of the seats are filled by women.) Some wondered at the time whether it was feasible to meet this target. Now, nearly half of parliament and a third of the president's cabinet posts are held by women. Rwanda today has the world's highest percentage of female legislators.

Rwanda has a dark past but a bright future. It has a long way to go -- the country remains one of the world's poorest, and the social reverberations of the genocide are evident everywhere. Yet in the midst of tragedy, the women are building something genuinely new. Perhaps it is fitting that a nation so wracked by death could give birth to a vibrant new age. I know that one thing is clear: Through their bold and courageous actions, these women should inspire not only their fellow Africans, but all individuals -- men and women -- across the globe.

Mrs. McCain, the wife of Sen. John McCain and mother of four, founded the American Voluntary Medical Team, which helps bring doctors to war-torn countries.

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Feb 12, 2009

Read Country Director Sweeta Noori's Letter to the Editor of NY Times

To the Editor:

Re “In Poverty and Strife, Women Test Limits” (news article, Oct. 6):

The fact that women are making significant progress in some parts of Afghanistan is good news that confirms our own experience in the country.

The province of Bamian will benefit from women taking on new roles as breadwinners, peacekeepers and government leaders; indeed, the area’s relative stability indicates that it already has. In many other areas the change is far less visible and comes in small but significant steps, with women learning skills and finding opportunities to support their families.

But we cannot let these encouraging developments overshadow the life-threatening dearth of health care, education and basic human rights for the majority of Afghan women. Stabilizing Afghanistan must include teaching women how to read and write, develop sources of income and become more active in public life.

Bamian shows that change is possible, even in the most challenging environments. Sweeta Noori

Afghanistan Country Director Women for Women International Washington, Oct. 8, 2008

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Feb 12, 2009

Honorata's Story: A Journey from Rape Survivor to Advocate

It was in 2002 that the world turned up side down and Honorata lost the signs of a "true and nice life" that she and her husband had built. She was captured and tortured by the armed militias. She was gang raped, sexually abused, forced to endure unimaginable humilities. Honorata's days blended into one another until the moment another marauding band stormed the camp. In the confusion, she escaped.

With nowhere to go, no food, nothing but the torn cloth she wore, Honorata walked. And walked. And walked. Through the blistering heat and through rain storms, she walked over 150 miles to Bukavu, a village that had become a haven for people fleeing the war. There she found her five children who had survived by the kindness of strangers. Reunited, she began to rebuild their life.

But just as she tried, the war came to her doorstep again. And, again she was raped, beaten and sexually abused. Families that had helped her feared she was cursed. She was left, again, crushed but determined to recover and rebuild.

Honorata joined Women for Women International in August 2004. Her story of survival was featured on the Oprah Show and in the O Magazine February 05 issue article, Post-cards from the Edge.

Relating the horrors of what she experienced was the first step to her healing. Until joining Women for Women International, Honorata had never shared her story and silently endured the trauma. "It is one thing to have been through what I have been through. To have no one acknowledge it enhances that pain threefold," she said. "Your willingness to recognize my humanity has given voice to my distress and meaning to my pain."

In a culture that marginalizes rape victims, Honorata felt isolated from the society that failed to protect her. She felt fragmented socially, economically, and psychologically. But once she realized she was in a safe place, both physically and emotionally, she began to rekindle her dreams.

The program "has dared me to hope-of having a house, of living in peace, of reclaiming my dynamism, my dignity. If not director of a school, I would like to be someone of importance, someone of value again," she said optimistically soon after she started.

Honorata joined a small group of women who also suffered in war. Each had their own stories of horror, of lives lost, and of struggling to regain their dignity. Together they shared their lives, their hopes and dreams. They sat side by side to discuss the role of women in rebuilding society, women's rights and the new Constitution, and family law. They learned about reproductive health issues, such as their anatomy, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and child birth.

In small groups, the women learned basic business and marketing skills. They enrolled in special job skills classes designed to meet the market needs of their community. They talked about the economic value of housework, and the importance of education and literacy in gaining economic independence.

Honorata chose tie-dyeing for her vocational skills training. Using her money from her Sponsor, she is creating a small business. Life is still hard but she is trying to earn a living and provide for her family's basic needs. She is determined to find ways to increase her income to enable her to save so one day she can have her own home again.

From the beginning, Honorata actively participated in the training sessions, particularly the classes on women's roles and the importance of becoming an active citizen. In the session about women and the Constitution, she vowed to play her role in rebuilding the country. After attending a community meeting on violence against women, Honorata noted "I come to these meetings on violence against women. It is always a so-called expert talking about us rape survivors. I have never seen that they give the floor to us to talk about ourselves. We have a voice and we can articulate what has happened to us and how that has impacted our lives."

Determined to share her first-hand experience and not to be silent, Honorata gave a speech on March 8, International Women's Day, about the suffering of women in eastern Congo. She boldly called for accountabilities at all levels. In the audience was the Governor of the Province and other political figures and community leaders. On behalf of other rape survivors, she called on the humanitarian community and national authorities to take heed of what has happened to women in Congo and what continues to happen.

"I did not believe that I could still hold a speech in front of a crowd. But I have done just that," she said proudly afterwards.

Her participation in Women for Women International has not only helped her to regain her sense of self, but it has given her the hope that she was looking for. "I feel like I am someone important," she said recently. "The recognition that I have been given today has made me realize that I am a valuable member in my community."

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